Bike commuting is a great way to get some exercise while also avoiding traffic and saving on gas. But if you bike to work, you need to be as comfortable and efficient as possible so you don’t show up to the office exhausted and sweaty. That’s where commuter bikes and road bikes differ. Commuter bikes are designed for comfort and stability, while road bikes are designed for speed and efficiency. But which one is right for you?
Here’s a closer look at the key differences between these two types of bikes.
What are commuter bikes?
While the term “commuter bikes” does refer to a specific type of bicycle just like the terms road bikes or mountain bikes, sometimes it’s also used as a general category which includes any kind of bicycle that’s designed to be ridden in the city.
In fact, most people who use a bicycle to commute don’t actually use a commuter bike.
In this article, we are going to talk about the actual commuter bike and other types of bikes that are also commonly used for commuting such as:
- Hybrid bikes
- Fitness bikes
- Comfort bikes
- Folding bikes
All types of commuter bikes share several key features that make them ideal for commuting.
First, commuter bikes tend to have a more upright riding position. This makes them more comfortable for non-athlete bodies, as you won’t be hunched over the handlebars. Second, commuter bikes usually come equipped with fenders and racks, which make them more versatile for everyday use.
Third, commuter bikes have wider tires than road bikes. This helps to absorb bumps in the road which is very important to keep your body comfortable.
All of these features make commuter bikes ideal for commuting in the city.
How do commuter bikes compare to road bikes?
In contrast, road bikes are designed for speed and power efficiency. They have a more aerodynamic riding position with the rider hunched over the handlebars. This combined with the more aero-shaped frame and slim tires helps reduce wind resistance and makes the bike faster.
However, this aggressive riding position can be uncomfortable for people who are not used to riding them. Road bikes also have narrower tires than commuter bikes, which helps to make them go much faster but also makes them less comfortable on rough roads.
When ridden with the same effort, a road bike can go about 5 km/h or 3 mph faster than commuter bikes. For some people, the tradeoff between speed and comfort is worth it.
Let’s do some math:
According to Zippia, the average American commutes 41 miles or 65 km a day to and from work.
The average commuting bike speed is 12 mph or 20 km/h, and the average road bike speed is 15 mph or 25 km/h.
On a commuter bike, it’ll take them 1 hour and 40 minutes to go to work. On a road bike, it’ll take them 1 hour and 20 minutes to go the same distance.
This means that, on average, you’ll save 20 minutes each way by commuting on a road bike for a total of 40 minutes per day, a 22% difference. The bigger the distance, the more time you will save.
Which bike is right for you?
Now that you know the key differences between these two types of bikes, you might be wondering which one is right for you.
The answer, of course, depends on your individual preference and whether you can handle the more uncomfortable yet faster road bike.
If you are used to riding a road bike and the route you take is generally smooth, then the best bike for commuting is a road bike because you will be able to get to work faster with less energy. If you’re just getting into biking, or you want the most comfortable ride, then the answer is a commuter bike.
Other than speed, road bikes are also lighter than even small-sized folding bikes. So, if you need to lift your bike or use public transportation during the commute, road bikes can be more convenient.
That said, if want something in-between, there are two more options:
Gravel bikes and endurance road bikes
If you want the best of both worlds for commuting, you could always get a gravel bike or an endurance road bike.
Gravel bikes and endurance road bikes are essentially road bikes with a wider tire clearance and more upright geometry. Not as upright as commuter bikes, but any beginner should be able to feel comfortable on them.
They are not as fast as road bikes because of the weight and wider tires, but at least you can easily swap the tires if you need more speed, and swapping tires is much cheaper than buying a whole new bike.
On another positive side, gravel and endurance road bikes usually come in stock with a wider gear range than a performance-oriented road bike. If you commute through hills, this can make your ride a lot easier.
Just like road bikes, all gravel and endurance road bikes are also compatible with racks and fenders, which is important if you want to use them for commuting in bad weather. And finally, they are built to be tougher and more stable than average road bikes so you can bring more stuff with you.
How to make your road bike (or any bike) more suitable for commuting
Road bikes may not be the most comfortable option for commuting, but using a road bike can save you a lot of time because it’s significantly faster than other types of commuter bikes. Fortunately, there are ways to make them more comfortable and suitable for commuting.
First off, you can swap out the tires for wider ones. This will make your bike a bit slower, but it will also make it much more comfortable. Every road bike has a different tire clearance, but you can usually use 30mm tires on most disc brake bikes even if they don’t officially allow it. Some road bikes allow up to 34mm.
To further increase comfort from the tire, use a tubeless setup so you can drop the air pressure by 20-30 psi. The drop in air pressure will make your bike much more comfortable (and probably faster).
Next, increase the stack and lower the reach of your bike. This will change the position of your body to be more upright and relaxed. These are not usually a problem on gravel and endurance road bikes.
To achieve both, you can get a shorter stem and flip it upside down. You might also want to try a handlebar with short bends that reduce the overall reach or a riser handlebar to increase the stack.
Speaking of stem, you can try a suspension stem like the RedShift ShockStop to reduce road vibration by up to 70%. Some endurance road bikes have a built-in vibration-dampening technology on the headset, so using a suspension stem might be overkill.
Finally, make sure your road bike is actually the right size for you. With other types of bikes, you can usually go up or down by one or even two sizes, but for road bikes, you pretty much have to use the right size.